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Swiss poultry break out of the coop

The great outdoors beckons for 1.3 million Swiss chickens

(Keystone)

A temporary ban on keeping domestic fowl outdoors in Switzerland will be lifted on Friday. Neighbouring countries have also ended their bans.

The authorities say the precautionary measure aimed at preventing a possible outbreak of bird flu has been a success.

"It was important to introduce the ban in October to reassure consumers and poultry farmers that Switzerland is doing all it can to protect the country against bird flu," said Marcel Falk of the Federal Veterinary Office.

He said there was no reason to keep chickens, turkeys, ducks and other domestic fowl indoors any longer, because the risk of contamination through migratory birds from Russia was very low now that most of them had arrived in western Europe.

Falk told swissinfo that experts had found no traces of avian flu in any of the 800 samples taken from migratory birds over the past two months.

He said the authorities had no knowledge of major problems among poultry farmers or the sizeable number of hobby breeders.

"They cooperated fully with us and came up with very creative solutions to keep the poultry in. After all the ban was in their interest too," said Falk.

Winter garden

Aviforum, the umbrella organisation of Swiss poultry producers, says it is happy to see the order lifted, although it had agreed with the seven-week ban.

Aviforum director Ruedi Zweifel told swissinfo the country's strict animal welfare law had helped the smooth implementation.

"We have a quite unique system in Switzerland of keeping chickens in coops with a covered external space attached," said Zweifel.

He added that poultry farmers were aware that the risk of an outbreak of bird flu remained after the lifting of the ban.

The animal-rights group, Kagfreiland, which has close links to organic farmers, has criticised the authorities for the fact it took a week to implement the government decision.

Monitoring

The authorities - who will continue their programme of monitoring wild birds until the end of January - called on poultry breeders and owners to observe standard hygiene rules to prevent animal diseases, including avian flu, from spreading.

"The Federal Veterinary Office made it clear that poultry keepers must be ready to take their domestic fowl inside again, if a case of bird flu comes to light in Switzerland or neighbouring countries," said Falk.

Switzerland has banned poultry imports from countries affected by avian flu, including Turkey, Romania and Ukraine, and increased border checks.

There are fears that the deadly H5N1 virus could mutate into a highly contagious human strain of the virus, triggering a pandemic.

So far there have been no cases of human infection outside Asia.

swissinfo, Urs Geiser

Key facts

The ban on outdoor poultry came into force on October 25 and will be lifted on December 16, in line with similar measures in neighbouring countries.
Veterinary experts took about 800 samples to find contaminated migratory birds, but found no traces of the virus.
The H5N1 variant of bird flu has infected nearly 140 people in Asia and killed at least 70 since the virus resurfaced in late 2003.

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